Bill Russell, an 11-time NBA champion who spent much of his formative years in the Bay Area and won two NCAA Tournament Championships at the University of San Francisco (USF), passed away peacefully on Sunday at 88.
He hardly took the typical path to sports fame. Stars like LeBron James may be defined as transcendent generational talents from an early age, but colleges paid little attention to Russell, overlooking the Oakland-based hooper, who moved to the city with his family when he was eight. He only played varsity basketball in his senior year at McClymonds High School, having spent his junior year with the JV team.
That all changed at USF— the only school to offer him a scholarship—where he both competed as a high jumper and became the starting center under head coach Phil Woolpert after a successful year on the freshman team. He was the leading scorer on a squad that posted a 14-7 record in his sophomore year, then led the Dons to back-to-back national championships in 1955 and 1956, averaging more than 20 points and 20 rebounds per game in each of those seasons.
“Bill Russell helped put USF on the map in the 1950s,” said current university president Rev. Paul J. Fitzgerald. “We are grateful not only for his many contributions to our community, the athletic department and Jesuit education but also for his courage and commitment to advancing justice, on and beyond the basketball court.”